In the centerpiece speech of the night, a searing indictment of her husband Barack Obama’s successor, Obama declared that Trump has mishandled the pandemic and failed to respond to outcries over the deaths of Black Americans. She warned that the nation would suffer more if he is elected to a second term.
“Let me be as honest and clear as I possibly can: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us,” she said, before quoting a line Trump used about covid-19 deaths in a recent interview: “It is what it is.”
She spoke passionately about protests over police brutality this year — and Trump’s response of declaring those in the streets to be anarchists.
“Here at home as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a never-ending list of innocent people of color continue to be murdered, stating the simple fact that a Black life matters is still met with derision from the nation’s highest office,” Obama said, wearing a necklace that read “Vote.”
Earlier in the night, the brother of Floyd, who was killed while pleading for air as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on him, appeared to ask for a moment of silence to commemorate those who have died as a result of police misconduct.
“It is up to us to carry on the fight for justice,” Philonise Floyd said, without making an overt call for support of Biden. “Our actions will be their legacies.”
Other testimonials against Trump’s stewardship ranged from democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Ohio’s Republican former governor John Kasich, both of whom have pleaded with the country to set aside ideological differences to defeat Trump. The daughter of a covid-19 patient angrily blamed her father’s death on Trump during the broadcast, which repeatedly showed victims of the coronavirus.
The unprecedented virtual convention program, without crowds, floor fights or sign waving, reflected the extraordinary limits of current public health guidelines, as the country continues to keep socially distant in the face of a pandemic that has killed more than 167,000 Americans this year. Occasional live shots of Democratic delegates watching at home were cut in throughout the night to replicate some sense of a normal event.
In a truncated two-hour format, organizers sought to showcase a united front in support of presumptive Democratic nominee Biden, who appeared frequently in the program through speaking clips, still photos and prerecorded video. Borrowing heavily from the tropes of live cable television, he hosted a brief roundtable discussion with civil rights activists, including Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who died in police custody in New York in 2014.
Most speeches lasted just a couple of minutes or less, leaving Obama with the longest address to close out the night. She acknowledged that voting might be even more difficult this year for some.
“We have got to grab our comfortable shoes, put on our masks, pack a brown-bag dinner and maybe breakfast, too, because we’ve got to be willing to stand in line all night if we have to,” she said.
Obama repeated and expanded on her 2016 convention plea for Democrats to “go high” when their opponents go low.
“Going high means standing fierce against hatred,” she said. “Going high means unlocking the shackles of lies and mistrust with the only thing that can set us free — cold, hard truth.”
Biden will deliver his acceptance speech from Delaware on Thursday at the close of the final night. The presumptive vice-presidential nominee, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), will speak Wednesday.
The programming mixed live speeches and prerecorded set pieces, including a Zoom-style singing of the national anthem, musical performances and clips from virtual campaign events. There were also interviews or video reflections from a wide variety of people explaining how their lives have been affected by the health and financial crises of the Trump era, as well as cameos by Democratic stars like soccer player Megan Rapinoe, activist Ady Barkin, Virginia lawmaker and transgender rights activist Danica Roem, and Khizr Khan, whose son was killed while serving in the Army in Iraq in 2004 and who was attacked by Trump during the 2016 campaign.
The evening was hosted by actress Eva Longoria Baston, a Texas native best known for her role in the television series “Desperate Housewives.”
Before Democrats beamed into the virtual convention from locations across the country, Trump responded by traveling to Minnesota, a Democratic state he nearly won in 2016, and Wisconsin, where the Democratic convention was supposed to have been held before the viral outbreak shuttered events in Milwaukee.
He ran through his usual attacks on Biden, calling him “Sleepy Joe Biden” and “Slow Joe,” and criticized Democrats for their support of gun control measures and police reforms, warning that “no one will be safe in a Biden-run America.”
He claimed that his own “approach to the pandemic is based on science,” while Biden is guided by “left-wing ideology.” He mocked the opposing party for prerecording some of its convention programming rather than airing the entire event live, which he said would be more exciting. (Republicans also plan to use video recordings, which are being created by former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.)
“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged, remember that,” Trump said in his campaign speech in Oshkosh, Wis. “That’s the only way we’re going to lose this election.”
Vice President Pence carried the Republican message as well Monday with a tweet celebrating the Nasdaq stock exchange closing at a record high. “The economy is coming back,” Pence wrote on Twitter, “and it will keep growing with #FOURMOREYEARS!”
The first of four rounds of Democratic convention speakers was centered on the theme of “We the People,” with calls for the country to come together to vote against Trump and repair the damage they say he has caused.
There was a heavy focus on the protests that have erupted since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the calls to address the nation’s systemic racism. Washington Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) recounted how the Trump administration forcibly removed peaceful protesters from outside the White House so he could stage a “photo op” in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, an incident Obama would later condemn.
“While we were peacefully protesting, Donald Trump was plotting,” Bowser said, standing before Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House. “He stood in front of one of our most treasured houses of worship and held a Bible for a photo op. He sent troops in camouflage into our streets. He sent tear gas into the air — federal helicopters, too.”
Voters from around the country shared how the coronavirus crisis has affected their lives. Kristin Urquiza of California told viewers how her 65-year-old father voted for Trump, believed the president’s guidance on the coronavirus and died after catching covid-19.
“His only preexisting condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that, he paid with his life,” she said, adding that she will cast a ballot for Biden in memory of her father.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) argued that Trump had neglected to stop the coronavirus’s spread and that Biden would make the difficult decisions needed at a moment like this.
“Over the past few months, we learned what’s essential: rising to the challenge, not denying it,” Whitmer said. “We’ve learned who is essential, too. Not just the wealthiest among us. Not a president who fights his fellow Americans rather than fight the virus that’s killing us and our economy. It’s the people who put their own health at risk to care for the rest of us.”
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose state was one of the earliest and hardest hit by the coronavirus, brought the PowerPoint slides he uses in his daily news conferences to argue that Trump had failed to fulfill his leadership role and that Biden would.
“Only a strong body can fight off the virus, and America’s divisions weakened it,” Cuomo said. “Donald Trump didn’t create the initial division. The division created Trump. He only made it worse.”
Several current and former Republicans — former New Jersey governor Christine Whitman, business executive Meg Whitman and former representative Susan Molinari (N.Y.), plus several rank-and-file voters — explained why they will vote for Biden this year. Kasich, who ran against Trump in 2016, acknowledged that “in normal times,” he would never dream of speaking at a Democratic convention, but he argued that these are “not normal times” and that the country needs Biden to beat Trump.
There were repeated mentions of Trump’s attempts to weaken the U.S. Postal Service ahead of the election, when a historic number of people are expected to vote by mail instead of physically going to the polls. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) called out the president for attacking mail-in voting even as he requested absentee ballots from Florida. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) joked that despite Trump’s efforts, he would still have to file a change-of-address form when he leaves the White House.
Earlier in the day, Biden campaign manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillon said the campaign is preparing for the largest turnout in a presidential election despite the pandemic and is encouraging voting early and by mail.
She said Democrats have the “largest voter protection effort that has ever been conducted on a presidential campaign” as Trump continues to stoke the postal crisis and confuse voters. That will include “litigation . . . political coordination and legislative efforts,” along with pushing voters to return their mail-in ballots as early as possible.
“We expect turnout to be greater than any presidential before us, and we’re going to ensure that that takes place even during a pandemic,” she said during an interview with Washington Post Live on Monday morning.
One of the final speakers of the night was Sanders, who ran against Biden in the Democratic primary race on a much more liberal platform.
“In response to the unprecedented set of crises we face, we need an unprecedented response, a movement, like never before,” he said. “The future of our democracy is at stake. . . . The price of failure is just too great to imagine.”
That message of unity amid crisis was echoed by several of Biden’s other onetime primary rivals, who were featured in a video reflecting on the contest and why they’re excited to support Biden. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) recounted how Biden embraced him during a primary debate break and told him how important it was for Booker to be on that stage sharing his policy ideas.
The resistance to Biden’s nomination inside the Democratic Party has been polite in the run-up to this week’s convention, with some delegates voting against the party’s platform but not threatening to withhold a vote in November. The mostly virtual nature of the convention replaced a raucous floor vote with an online vote.
Anti-Biden sentiment was hard to find in Milwaukee, where some delegates for Sanders said they had few illusions about Biden’s politics but would vote for him as a way to remove Trump from office. Tommy Molina, a Sanders delegate from Milwaukee, told a Sunday gathering of activists that they had been asked to wait too long for real change; after his remarks, he said he was committed to supporting Biden.
“At this point, I’d vote for a giraffe,” Molina said.
David Weigel and Robert Costa contributed to this report.
Live updates from Monday follow.